Not too long ago, I was regaled by the sound of my teenage daughters whooping it up in the basement. They were playing a video game that had been collecting dust since the fifth grade. I’ve also heard reports of other teens who enjoy watching re-runs of “Hannah Montana” or “That’s So Raven.”
What’s going on with this behavior? Should parents be concerned when they find their teen curled up on the couch watching “The Lion King” for the 20th time? Or reading Captain Underpants?
Lisa Damour, psychologist and best-selling author of Untangled and Under Pressure, has a reassuring explanation for why teens reach back for these touchstones from their early childhood.
“They’re putting themselves in a time machine to when things felt less stressful and they had more mastery in life. It’s actually a brilliant way for teens to restore themselves.”
One of the major draws, says Damour, “is the total predictability. They know how things are going to turn out.” Contrast this with the constant unpredictability of their lives. That might include what grade they’re going to get on a test or who is asking whom to the homecoming dance.
As parents, we can try to tap into this need to return to childhood pleasures when we invite them on family outings to the zoo or to see the dinosaurs they loved as a child at the natural history museum. But Damour recommends keeping the bar low. “Be as neutral as you can, while presenting it as a non-negotiable outing.” If they suspect an agenda, she says, it is doomed to failure.
And when it turns out they actually had a great time coming along for the ride? Resist the opportunity to say, “See, I told you this would be fun!”
Says Damour, “A lot of parenting a teenager comes down to what you don’t say. This would be one of those times to just put a piece of chewing gum in your mouth and say nothing.”